Neural basis of egalitarian behavior
Christopher T. Dawes, Peter John Loewen, Darren Schreiber, Alan N. Simmons, Taru Flagan, Richard McElreath, Scott E. Bokemper, James H. Fowler, and Martin P. Paulus
PNAS April 24, 2012 vol. 109 no. 17 6479-6483
Individuals are willing to sacrifice their own resources to promote equality in groups. These costly choices promote equality and are associated with behavior that supports cooperation in humans, but little is known about the brain processes involved. We use functional MRI to study egalitarian preferences based on behavior observed in the “random income game.” In this game, subjects decide whether to pay a cost to alter group members’ randomly allocated incomes. We specifically examine whether egalitarian behavior is associated with neural activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the insular cortex, two regions that have been shown to be related to social preferences. Consistent with previous studies, we find significant activation in both regions; however, only the insular cortex activations are significantly associated with measures of revealed and expressed egalitarian preferences elicited outside the scanner. These results are consistent with the notion that brain mechanisms involved in experiencing the emotional states of others underlie egalitarian behavior in humans.